China property

Beijing’s well-to-do angry as housing law forces them to mingle with poorer neighbours

A ban on partitions within communities means some wealthy homeowners are having to share their exclusive facilities with their less affluent neighbours

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 7:28pm

A social housing policy which is literally tearing down barriers between Beijing’s haves and have-nots is causing outrage among the city’s well-heeled residents.

The rule, which bars property developers from building walls and fences that segregate a community, is forcing some of the city’s wealthy homeowners to share their facilities and outdoor spaces with their less affluent neighbours.

Last week, Beijing’s housing commission reinforced the policy, warning builders they would not be granted pre-sale permits if they separated members of the same community with physical partitions.

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In the most prominent case, residents of Jade Mansion, an upscale community outside the west third ring road, were told recently that the iron fence separating them from the adjacent subsidised housing project had to be torn down. Its removal means those who have been living on the less salubrious side of the partition will now enjoy equal access to the development’s premium amenities such as gardens and exercise equipments.

We pay eight to nine yuan per square metre per month as a property management fee, while they pay three yuan. How can it be fair that we all get to use the same facilities?
Jade Mansion resident

The sudden disappearance of this barrier – which has served a physical and psychological purpose – has not gone down well with residents of the private, luxury section of the community, who are furious to be losing exclusive access to amenities they say they are paying far more for.

“We pay eight to nine yuan per square metre per month as a property management fee, while they [the poorer residents] pay three yuan. How can it be fair that we all get to use the same facilities?” said a resident of Jade Mansion, who would only give his surname, Fang, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

But those on the poor side of Jade Mansions and similarly divided communities often complain that the amenities they are left with are inadequate or not what they were promised.

“With the partition, the green part of our side is less than 30 per cent of what was previously promised by the developer, while the fitness and child play facilities are all on the other side,” said one subsidised homeowner on social media, one of many expressing their displeasure. “We hope the authorities will heed the grievances of our underclass.”

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The regulation over partitions derives from another social policy, which requires developers to spare a portion of the land they acquire to build affordable or rental homes for the city’s underprivileged.

If, during the auction process, the bids between competing parties reach a government ceiling, the contract will be awarded to the company or consortium allocating the biggest share of social housing.

In the case of Jade Mansion, Longfor Properties and China Gezhouba Real Estate bought the parcel of land in early 2015 along for 36,000 yuan (US$5,470) per square metre. The developers agreed at that time to allocate part of the plot for affordable homes to be sold at 21,500 yuan per sq m, well below the land price. They make their profit from the private part of the project, where they can sell luxury homes with an area greater than 220 sq m at a price above 100,000 yuan.

Despite their distinct demographics, the government deems the two parts of the development to be one community and the building of fences a breach of the approved designs.

The metal barrier had caused resentment among residents of the poorer, public housing section, who felt they were left with only a road and very basic facilities; they even had to walk further to enter the community through a separate door.

Both groups lobbied the government hard, but the subsidised housing group triumphed in what many saw as a surprising victory. Fang said the fence was dismantled at the end of August, before a government deadline expired.

He believes the policy is part of misplaced efforts by the authorities to address social inequality.

“When the state can’t achieve wealth redistribution through taxation or philanthropy, they just force us to cede our rights to the underclasses through mingled living,” Fang said,.

The fear of “mingled living” is not limited to Jade Mansion. Beijing’s housing commission is said to be holding talks with several more communities across the city in which developers built subsidised or rental units in order to acquire land in the last two years.